The City of Brotherly Love is this year living up to its unfortunate nickname:“Filthadelphia.”
“It’s just the smell of rot,” said James Gitto, president of the West Passyunk neighborhood association in South Philadelphia, told The Associated Press. Gitto said the situation devolved through July into “a total mess” and he hired a private recycling company to haul away his bottles and cans.
Poverty and litter often go hand in hand, and in the nation’s poorest big city, the sanitation department has been short-handed and overworked. The city’s 311 complaint line received more than 9,700 calls about trash and recycling in July, compared with 1,873 in February.
Faced with social distancing restrictions, residents are staying home and generating more trash than ever before — about a 30 percent increase in residential trash collections, said Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams.
“I’ve never seen the amount of tonnage,” Williams said.
People are cleaning out garages and attics, Williams said. That’s in addition to household trash that has increased as more people cook at home or bring home takeout from restaurants that have not yet fully opened. His department also has had to clean up after protests over racial injustice.
Thanks to COVID-19, there are fewer sanitation workers, and staffing has been varied since some workers have to quarantine if another crew member tests positive, Williams explained.
“If they say it’s going to be two days late, you can deal with that. But if you don’t know when it’s going to be picked up, you have to put it out so that it’s there when they come, and that’s the problem if it’s left out there for days and days and days,” said Jacqui Bowman, who lives in the University City neighborhood.
Bowman had to wait nearly three weeks for her trash to be removed -- after it sat in the scorching heat and was drenched by a thunderstorm. It was only taken away after she complained to a city council member on social media and posted pictures of the trash heap.
“I can totally understand manpower issues related to the virus, but you don’t want to add another public health issue to the existing public health issue,” she said.
In June, sanitation employees staged a protest calling for safer working conditions, hazard pay and more personal protection equipment.
Recycling collection was suspended on Monday and Tuesday this week so crews could focus just on trash. City residents were told to place recyclables out the following week and were encouraged to use six sanitation centers throughout the city as well.
Williams said the increase in trash was costing the city an extra $2.5 million to $3 million in disposal costs.
Officials hope to increase the administration's workforce with new hires in August.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.